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The Homeric Argus of Alexander Pope

Sunday, 21 May, 2017

In Homer’s Odyssey, Argus is Odysseus’ dog. After ten years fighting in Troy, followed by ten more years struggling to get back to Ithaca, Odysseus finally arrives home only to hear that rivals have taken over his residence in hopes of marrying his wife Penelope. To secretly re-enter the house and spring a surprise attack on them, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar. As he approaches the entrance, he finds the once-majestic Argus lying neglected and infested with lice. Unlike everyone else, Argus recognizes Odysseus at once and he has just enough strength to wag his tail. Unable to greet his beloved dog, as this would betray who he really is, Odysseus passes by (but not without shedding a tear) and enters the building. Thereupon, Argus dies.

Alexander Pope, who was born in London on this day in 1688, is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare: “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing.” His tribute to Argus is a classic, in the Homeric sense. The image is of Prince, our very own, always-majestic, Argus.

Argus

When wise Ulysses, from his native coast
Long kept by wars, and long by tempests toss’d,
Arrived at last, poor, old, disguised, alone,
To all his friends, and ev’n his Queen unknown,
Changed as he was, with age, and toils, and cares,
Furrow’d his rev’rend face, and white his hairs,
In his own palace forc’d to ask his bread,
Scorn’d by those slaves his former bounty fed,
Forgot of all his own domestic crew,
The faithful Dog alone his rightful master knew!

Unfed, unhous’d, neglected, on the clay
Like an old servant now cashier’d, he lay;
Touch’d with resentment of ungrateful man,
And longing to behold his ancient lord again.
Him when he saw he rose, and crawl’d to meet,
(‘Twas all he could) and fawn’d and kiss’d his feet,
Seiz’d with dumb joy; then falling by his side,
Own’d his returning lord, look’d up, and died!

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

Prince as Argus


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